Players: Wayne Bell, publisher of We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom; Amina Sharif, communications director for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and Imam M. Zaman Marwant of the The Islamic Association of The Finger Lakes.
The Opening Serve: Bell has published a 36-page “graphic novel” depicting the events of 9/11. The book allows children to color scenes like Navy SEALs raiding the Bin Laden’s compound, Osama bin Laden using a veiled woman as a human shield, and the World Trade Center Towers burning. “If you bomb our country, America will chase you ’til the very end,” Bell told Talking Points Memo. “That’s what it shows.” He adds that the book is a representation of 9/11. “It’s a clean, honest read,” he said. “It’s not degrading or anything like that.” Bell also spoke to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a generic black-and-white coloring book with tender language for the children and their parents,” Bell said. “It’s designed as a teaching and learning tool, and it’s a memorial tribute to the families of 9/11.”
The Return Volley: Sharif doesn’t believe it’s that simple. The Chicago communications director of CAIR told the Tribune that the book shows 9/11 and its aftermath “in a ‘slanted’ manner,” painting Muslims in broad strokes and failing to distinguish extremist radicals from the majority of Muslims. “It’s hateful, inflammatory and completely inappropriate for children or anyone for that matter,” Sharif said. Sharif’s statements were echoed by Imam M. Zaman Marwant, a Muslim leader, to WENY-TV. “There were Muslims’ lives that were lost and through these kinds of information, we are telling these families don’t even mourn your dead or your lost. So, it’s a sad thing that is happening.”
Bell told the Chicago Tribune that the book simply depicts the truth: that Muslim extremists were responsible for the attacks. “The book itself has nothing to do with the Muslim faith,” Bell responds in the Tribune. “It talks about the radical Islamist jihadist Osama bin Laden and his 19 terrorists and what they do to America.” He responds to WENY, “The book itself is just a general book on the facts of 9/11, there’s no agenda behind it. There’s no politics behind it whatsoever.”
What They Say They’re Fighting About: The depiction of Islamic religion and whether the book is appropriate for children. Sharif and Immam Marwant believe that the book paints broad strokes and unfairly vilifies Islam. Sharif, in particular, feels that the book isn’t for children. Bell disagrees on both counts. He believes that his book is a “general book on the facts of 9/11.” And though his book has a PG rating on Amazon and the book’s website, he stresses that its “tender language” makes it a “teaching and learning tool” for parents and children.
What They’re Really Fighting About: Whether there is any way to explain the events of 9/11 fully to children, whether a partial explanation suffices, and whether a coloring book is likely to provide any kind of explanation at all. The fight over this book is partly about the difficulty and responsibility adults have in explaining what happened on September 11, 2001 (and the repercussions) to children. Sharif and Marwant may not even agree with each other on how to explain those events, but both agree that Bell’s way is irresponsible.
Who’s Winning Now: Neither (though Bell is definitely losing the taste war). While Sharif and Marwant make valid points in protesting the book’s content and age-appropriateness for children, there’s a question of whether or not the publisher of coloring books like Butterflies and Birds,Agriculture Education Bear, and Superheroes of the Bible merits the serious attention and outrage of Muslim leaders, the Chicago Tribune, and TPM. And the appropriateness of having children color Navy SEALs firing on bin Laden while he uses a veiled woman as a human shield: is this even a discussion? That the two parties are at an impasse here is troubling.